Utah is the perfect example of why a nation needs national civil rights standards (aka a national constitution) not only for people but also our environment. That need is to protect the citizenry and the environments upon which we rely from the misguided and often onerous whims of states’ rightists.
The necessary umbrella that holds American society together is a national constitution with protections that are provided by the likes of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This phrase is completely ignored by Utah government but disconcertingly by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes when he recently stated, "whatever it takes to protect the laws and the will of the people," related to appealing an affront to Utah’s law stating marriage is only between and man and a woman. To Reyes, if the will of the people is to deny a segment of society its civil rights, so be it. However, Reyes’ mission to deny marriage for same-sex couples contradicts his mission: "We ensure the law is upheld and the rights of all citizens — no matter how young or old — are preserved" and "We also make every effort to educate the public about … equal opportunity."
If, that is, you are not a member of the LGBT community. The law of the land does not matter to Reyes if Utahns disagree.
Another example whereby states’ rightists are held in check by the federal umbrella is national legislation such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The CWA was a response to Ohio’s irresponsible ignoring of the Cuyahoga River fire, a water body feeding Lake Erie that was so polluted that it burned and "animal life does not exist." The 1969 fire helped generate water pollution-control activities, resulting in the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Ohio was remiss as a state on this issue.
The concept of extinction of species was not in the states’ rightist’s lexicon. The Endangered Species Act (thanks to Richard Nixon) was passed to protect species and also "the ecosystems upon which they depend." These federal responses to the lack of state protections of these national assets provides another reason to contain states’ rights. Left to the states, we would not have a single eagle in the air nor a river or stream worth fishing in the nation.
I have little doubt that Reyes was appointed because of his ethnic background (Hispanic). The Republican Party is desperate for ethnic engagement, yet at the same time it does what it can to deny minorities the right to vote (voter suppression laws). Minorities are not so naive; Republicans who believe they are are naive.
Here is a challenge for Reyes regarding social justice for Utah’s minorities. Utah is the fourth most toxic state of 56 states and territories, according to the national Toxic Release Inventory. And 25 of the top 100 most toxic companies nationally are doing business in Utah (MIT PERI Report). Many of these companies are on record as affecting the poor and minorities disproportionately.
Utah Department of Health data show that high-density Hispanic neighborhoods (Glendale, Rose Park, et. al.) are suffering higher rates of illnesses and other health issues than predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are in the shroud of toxic mines, railroads and refineries.
Reyes needs to redirect his energy back to his mission. I challenge Reyes to tackle the social justice disparities that the Hispanic community, his community, faces by using his office and all methods re: equal protection to provide a healthy and safe environment for all Utahns.
Terry Marasco is a former board member of the Utah Pride Center and activist with Utah Moms for Clean Air.
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